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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

How can an "outsider" help improve public schools?

How can an "outsider" help improve public schools?

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I am frustrated with public schools. I want to help make a difference, but I feel unwelcome to assist. How can I help make a difference with education at its core? I feel like I am helping apply bandages when broken bones go unattended. As a "non-teacher", I feel like an unwelcome outsider who "doesn't know" and "should let experts do their job". I've tutored, been a guest speaker, built software tools, helped develop compacts, and assisted teachers in different capacities. (These were on my own initiative; the most I ever received going through official channels was an automated "thank you for signing up".) The core of public schools is going in the wrong direction. They are too focused on tests and curriculum rather than inspiring innovation. They blame the government for these burdens. They blame lack of resources. They blame lack of… It does not take the latest technology or the most expensive classrooms or highest paid teachers. It takes looking at the system differently. Focus on teaching the kids the skills to innovate and tap into their desire to learn; then they will learn the curriculum. There are approaches that have made a difference. Many do not require additional costs per se, but they do require shifts that bureaucracy is not likely to make (e.g. starting school days a little later, longer school days, exercise programs, concerted efforts by all the teachers). I can no longer afford to be patient on the sidelines. I witnessed many district initiatives go no where over the past decade. My daughter enters the education system in the next few years. How can I help make a difference with education at its core?

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dbixby001's picture
dbixby001
Citizen who understands Education is the most important piece in society.

Mary Kate, what is that " test that is nationally normed"? Could public schools also take that test instead of state tests? What would be the consequences of them doing it?

Liz Krug Howell's picture
Liz Krug Howell
Parent of a First Grader, NTES Hampstead, NC, PTA Board Member

I agree funding should not be coming from the PTA. I wish it didn't have to but right now it's that our our kids and teachers do without. I also want to impact public school funding from the state budget. My state is proposing cuts (along with many other I suppose) that will take us backwards not forwards and I don't know how to voice my opinion loud enough to be heard by the people who make the decisions. If you find an organization or path please let us know about it.

Paula Prentis's picture
Paula Prentis
Author of SEL, self skills, PBL program for teens.

I totally hear where you are coming from. Frustrations here in NY as well. We've banged our heads against the wall on this one. At the risk of totally self-promoting, we did come up with a way to help schools raise money, and yes, I know, it IS through the PTA or other parent/child movements, but here goes. We give a generous donation to schools when they sell our product (ugh, this is so not my style); graphically gorgeous place-mats that have self-reflective conversation starters on them (www.YourChatMat.com) and the reason we developed them was to bring families together talking about issues that matter (the research is shocking on how much this helps to reduce risky behaviors and increase pro-social behaviors). We are passionate about reducing the problems and raising money for schools. We will be at the PTA convention in Orlando in a few weeks, btw. I'd be happy to ask some of those people attending if they have any thoughts for you and I will check back mid-June.
The frustration (for me) is that education moves at such a slow pace - even when we know what we are doing wrong, it seems to take forever to change it. (Diane Ravitch's book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, is a great place to begin acquiring knowledge on the topic).
Anyway, sorry for the self-promoting piece, but I totally agree that schools need help. We're trying to help, but yeah, it's not enough! Good Luck!!!!

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher
Blogger

Paula,

I'm so glad you took the risk to tell us about your product. I would like to help the readers of the SEL forum find out about Chat Mats. If I introduce a new thread would you re-post about them with your link?

MK

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher
Blogger

DB,

Anyone can use the testing format we use, but standards vary from state-to-state, and most schools want to test their students in regard to the specific standards that apply to them. I do work in a state with fairly high standards, and we use the standards as a guide to make sure that our students don't miss any key concepts, but our curriculum is not based on test content.

Our curriculum is correlated with the portfolio assessment tools we have developed with a variety of standards in mind (including NCTM and other professional agencies). Instead of listing goals in the form of standards, we list the discreet tasks we expect students to perform and then we indicate whether the task has been introduced, or if the child is working independently on it, or if it is a task which has been mastered. This style of assessment takes some getting used to...for parents as well as teachers!
BTW, a public district close to my home tried to make a similar change about ten years ago and the parents gave them so much grief they went back to an ABCDF system. Can you imagine? The parents really didn't want more information about what and how their children were learning. They just wanted to know how they were performing with regard to the expectations of the teacher.

mk

Paula Prentis's picture
Paula Prentis
Author of SEL, self skills, PBL program for teens.

Hello Mary Kate,
I would be happy to post on SEL about our product. Thank you for your kindness.
We came about our findings on the importance of family mealtime while researching for the curriculum on SEL that we sell to school districts, so it's a natural fit.
Sad to read above about the public district close to you that had such difficulty accepting the change that would benefit the skill-set of the students. I wonder if now, after Race to Nowhere, those parents might have a different response. I am sure you have read Mindset, by Carol Dweck. Somehow this reminds me of her book.
All the best,
Paula

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher
Blogger

Hi Paula,

I'm familiar with Dweck's central thesis, and we have long practiced supportive feedback based on this precept. We focus on effort, process instead of product. Montessori felt that to praise a child's work somehow cheapened his effort, or even took ownership.

I tend to give a lot of feedback in the form of observations: "I noticed your concentration during that task."
I also do a land office business in appreciations: "Thank you for helping with XYZ." "I appreciated when you taught the recorder part to your friend."
My other big supportive push is during any discipline situation. I always assure any student who is struggling with a limit that I have confidence they can make progress toward their goals.

Traditional Montessori early childhood classrooms allow children to give a signal that they have an announcement. When all present are attending, the student announces their accomplishment and invites any present who are interested to come "see" the work. When students reach a milestone, they are often eager to "docent" the experience to any interested classmembers or adults present.

I think these types of responses on the part of the adult allow us to celebrate with the child in a way which continues to encourage further growth.

mk

Paula Prentis's picture
Paula Prentis
Author of SEL, self skills, PBL program for teens.

Hi Mary Kate,
I am fascinated and could not agree more with your final sentence!
Thank you so much for sharing. I am always seeking out feedback on ways to incorporate the growth of the SELF in learning.
All the best,
Paula

dbixby001's picture
dbixby001
Citizen who understands Education is the most important piece in society.

I am formulating this idea relative to some comments and suggests above and discussion with others off line. I would like your feedback.

After school programs may be the key. After school programs do not have the reporting requirements that schools do. They can focus on teaching in a way that does not seem like teaching to kids (e.g. project-based-learning); as such, they will not carry the stigma that "school" unfortunately brings with it now for many kids and parents. They can indirectly show parents how learning can happen outside the classroom. They can take chances on new approaches without the risks that schools have. In doing so, their successes can become models for schools to follow.

This is in addition to the other benefits of after school programs, such as taking kids off the streets, keeping kids occupied in productive ways, assisting parents who can not afford day-care, providing a place to complement homework, etc.

Thoughts?

Paula Prentis's picture
Paula Prentis
Author of SEL, self skills, PBL program for teens.

Hello again. I've literally just arrived back on the red eye from Seattle where I attended the American School Counselor Association's conference. So, I wanted to let you know that counselors are trying so very hard to implement programs that speak to the social emotional issues of the students in order to help them academically. The overall feedback is that a shift is occurring that understands this is an important element, far too long overlooked by such policies as NCLB, etc.
I am happy for this shift, but it will be a very slow process that needs support from as many people as possible. I believe after school programs are, indeed, the way to go (in addition to including SEL in core curriculum) as a way to help students develop their entire sense of self. Costs for those programs, as well as finding teachers who can inspire the students are two potential issues that may curtail a successful implementation. Our program (Your Self Series) has been sought after for such programs, but again, cost and training AND persuading students to sign up for such programs is difficult as well. However, students DO love these programs when led by the right staff, so it is definitely worth the "struggle" to get them into the schools. In my district we are fortunate to have a motivated teacher whom the students adore. She runs an after school program called CATCH Club. CATCH stands for Conversations About Tolerance, Civility and Humanity. It is a group of 20-40 kids who choose the topics themselves and she facilitate discussion. In a word, it is magical what happens in that room. I'd be happy to provide more information on this if you'd like.
But in the interest of keeping this short, I have two more thoughts. First, yes, many students need a place to go to keep them off the streets, and teaming up with a local group like Boys and Girls Club may be a solution. Second, there is a national organization called Foundations Inc., that hold the After School Hours conference each year. I am going in Feb. It is in Burlingame, CA. We will have a booth there for both of our businesses that work to help families connect in a meaningful way as well as helping students discover who they are. Hope this was a bit helpful.
Take care! Paula

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